Chapter 6: Continuation Bets (cbets)
What is a continuation bet?
When a player raises preflop and bets the flop, this is called a continuation bet. Continuation betting is a complex and nuanced concept. This guide is an introduction to the most important factors determining whether or not to continuation bet the flop.
You can also continuation bet the turn and river. This article will focus on “heads-up” pots on the flop, that is pots between the preflop raiser and a single preflop caller. In multiway pots, you need to play much more straightforward and value oriented as you are against more players and need stronger holdings to value bet.
What does a continuation bet achieve?
Continuation betting is done for value, as a bluff, or as a semi-bluff. The basics of continuation betting are to understand your own hand and to understand your opponent.
Types of hands that you should be continuation betting
Value betting hands
If you have a strong hand you should prefer to bet as you want to play a larger pot. This is called “value betting”.
For example, you hold A♥K♥ on a flop of A♦5♠3♣. On this flop, you have a strong hand with top pair top kicker. You generally want to be betting, as you can be called by many worse hands such as weaker aces, straight draws, and underpairs (an underpair is pocket pair that is lower than the highest card on the board. For example, on an ace high board, J♦J♦ is an underpair.)
A value bet is a bet that you make when you can reasonably be called by worse hands.
With this holding on this board texture, you have a very clear value bet.
If you have a hand with low showdown value hand and high equity, you want to lean towards continuation betting as a semi-bluff.
To understand semi-bluffing, you need to understand two different concepts, showdown value and equity. To illustrate these concepts, here is an example hand that has both low showdown value and high equity.
You hold T♥9♥ on a board of 8♥7♥5♣. In this case, your hand value is only ten high. If you go to showdown, you are going to lose against even a hand as weak as that would be very likely to fold on the flop against a continuation bet. Your hand has very little showdown value. In contrast, you have a straight flush draw which gives you plenty of equity. To understand equity, just imagine that both players are all-in on the flop. The percentage of the time that your hand will win is your equity.
For example, what kind of equity do you have against a player that holds 2♥2♠? Their pocket pair is currently ahead of your ten high in showdown value. You might be shocked to find out that when you run the two hands against each other in a simulation program such as “Equilab”, T♥9♥ has an equity of 70%! 70% of the time, you are going to win the hand if both players go all-in on the flop.
What happens if your opponent holds a strong hand, like a pair of queens they decided to flat call rather than 3-bet preflop? You might be surprised to find out that T♥9♥ is still ahead with 52% equity.
On this board, T♥9♥ has high equity against your opponent and is a great candidate for a continuation bet based on equity alone.
What do you do if you have a hand low in showdown value with less equity?
Even a weaker hand, such as T♦9♥, should be used as a semi-bluffing hand on a board like 8♥7♥5♣. Your open-ended straight draw gives you good equity, but you have very little showdown value with simply ten high. (An Open Ended Straight Draw, or OESD, is a straight draw that has eight cards that can give you a straight. Otherwise known as an up and down straight draw, in this case any 6 or J gives you a straight.)
A semi-bluff is a bet made when you can be reasonably certain that your opponent will fold better hands and hands that have better showdown value than your holding.
Types of hands you should not be continuation betting
If you have a medium strength hand, you are more likely to want to play a smaller pot. You should be more inclined to check and call with these hands. This is called “pot control”. These hands have much better showdown value than the previous hands, and therefore it is less important to bluff with them.
You can check and call versus aggression if your opponent is overly aggressive, and check and fold against opponents that are tighter.
For example, you hold 9♥9♠ on a flop of A♦3♥9♠. In this case you should lean towards checking rather than betting. This is because most worse hands are not going to call your bet.
If you bet here, you will frequently be called by aces, some underpairs, and pairs of tens. Hands that you currently beat that will call you include straight draws such as JQ and KQ, but there are simply not enough worse hands for you to bet and be called.
Pot control should be used when you have showdown value but low equity against the range of hands with which your opponent will call your continuation bet.
If you have a hand that is low in showdown value and in equity, then your decision to continuation bet is determined by your opponent. In general, you do not want to be continuation betting as a pure bluff. Do not be afraid to check and fold to aggression with your weakest hands!
Understanding your hand at a deeper level: Board texture and hand ranges
Your opponent is going to give you much more credit when you continuation bet on an A high board if you have raised UTG rather than raised from the BTN. Why? As we show in our Unopened Preflop Raise article, when you are opening only 12% of hands compared to 45% of your hands, the percentage that your hand contains a strong ace is much higher. Most opponents understand this.
Understanding your opponent
Understanding your hand is just part of the puzzle. Understanding your opponent is especially important for determining when a semi-bluff is profitable, and whether or not you can be called by worse hands.
The most important poker statistic for continuation betting is your opponent's fold to continuation bet statistic. Poker Copilot has the statistic “Folded to Continuation Bet” (FCB) which is broken down by the flop, turn, and river, as well as whether your opponent is in position or out of position.
Some of your hands will be clear decisions based on the strength of your hand, your showdown value, and your equity.
Other decisions will be more nuanced. In this case, the guideline is that the higher the percentage your opponent is folding to continuation bets, the more fold equity you have. This means that continuation betting can be done as a bluff more often. When your opponent has a low fold to continuation bet, you have less fold equity. In this case, you should be continuation betting less as a bluff and more for value.
Good opponents will usually have a fold to continuation bet somewhere around 42%-57% at the lower stakes of poker. If an opponent strays from this range, they can be exploited.
One common mistake that newer players make is basing their decisions on insufficient data. While the fold to flop cbet statistic starts to become useful after a few hundred hands, you need thousands, if not tens of thousands of hands on your opponents before you can completely trust this statistic!
A word of caution: do not over continuation bet
There was a school of thought that at the lower stakes of poker players can profitably continuation bet at frequencies of 70% plus. While this strategy may have been profitable a decade ago, the state of online poker has evolved. Even if your opponent has a high fold to continuation bet, you should try to cbet hands as bluffs that have at least some equity. For example, having a single over-card, a backdoor flush draw, or a gutshot straight draw gives you a better chance of winning the hand.
A backdoor flush draw occurs when you have a hand such as T♥9♥ on a board of 2♦6♥7♠. If the turn and river are both hearts, then you will make a ten high flush. As well, this hand has what is called a “gutshot straight draw,” meaning that if you hit an 8 you will make a straight.
As a last lesson in continuation betting, imagine that you hold T♥9♥ on a board of 2♦6♥7♠. Think of which situations you would decide to continuation bet and which you would not, thinking of your position at the table, your opponent's position at the table, the value of your hand, and the frequency your opponent is folding to continuation bets.
These are just the first steps to understanding when to continuation bet or not. Our article on check-raising will give you one more piece of the puzzle.